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December 13, 2005

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Cubans Save Vacation for Havana Film Fest

By Vanessa Arrington, Associated Press Writer, December 9, 2005.

HAVANA - Long lines this time of year usually consist of Christmas shoppers, but in communist Cuba the lines are made up of an entirely different group of zealots: movie buffs.

Those crazy about cinema wait all year for Havana's international film festival, which brings movies from around Latin America and the world to some 20 screens in the capital in December.

The festival serves as a window to the rest of the globe for those living on an island where few get the opportunity to travel and television programming is run by the state.

"This is so important, for us to see all that is being said around the world," Mirtha Ibanez, a retired public health worker, said of the festival. "This is how we see the truth, and different cultures."

Many Cubans even save up vacation days to watch a half-dozen films per day at the festival, which opened Tuesday and runs through Dec. 16.

"I'm an economist, but I love the movies and took off time to be here," said Jose Luis Martinez, standing outside the Payret Theater across the street from Havana's historic Capitol Building. "I'm going to see as many movies as I can, probably about 40."

The theater seats aren't that comfortable, and there's no extra butter for the hardly fresh popcorn sold outside. But with tickets selling for just two Cuban pesos per film - about 10 U.S. cents - Cubans go to the movies in droves.

More than 80 feature-length films, including documentaries and animated movies, will compete in the International Festival of New Latin American Cinema. Most were produced in Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and Cuba, but European flicks and independent films from the United States also are shown.

The festival films are not censored, and tackle myriad issues, from war to infidelity to immigration.

"Un Ano Sin Amor," or "A Year Without Love," deals with a homosexual man living with AIDS and his search for love before he dies. Stark sexual scenes, including sadomasochism, surprised but didn't seem to repel moviegoers in the packed theater.

"It's something that's not in my world, but it's just another way to live," Lourdes Gonzalez, currently unemployed, said of the movie's theme. "It was quite forceful but still well done."

Other film protagonists include an Arab and a Jew in the Chilean film "La Ultima Luna," or "The Last Moon"; a street kid whose life is portrayed in one long night in Argentina's "Ronda Nocturna," or "Night Patrol"; and a 40-year-old black woman hired to take care of an aging widow with racist tendencies in Brazil's "El Ajedrez de los Colores," or "Chess of Colors."

"Normally the films touch upon really powerful, really deep topics," said musician Alain Ramirez, who had already seen five in just one day.

The documentaries also are far from timid, addressing such subjects as the war in Iraq, the travails of Latin maids in the United States and the murders and disappearances of women in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

Cubans are as passionate in the theater as out, often shouting reactions to certain scenes or chattering about a character during the film.

"This is a method of diversion for all Cubans," said Ramirez, the musician. "We eagerly anticipate it all year. Once it's here, we meet up with our friends, debate the movies afterward. We're fanatics."

East Timor PM visits Cuba

AFP, Sunday December 11, 2005.

The Prime Minister of East Timor, Mari Bim Amude Alkatiri, has begun an official visit to Cuba to "reinforce" bilateral relations, the Cuban government newspaper Granma reported.

Mr Alkatiri was invited to Cuba by President Fidel Castro to "help reinforce links of cooperation and solidarity" between the two island countries, the newspaper said.

A brigade of Cuban doctors is currently working in East Timor, while some 30 Timorese youths are studying in Cuba, according to Granma.

Cuba and East Timor established diplomatic relations in 2002, the year that the former Portuguese-controlled territory won its independence from Indonesia.

Menendez Inspires Pride in Cuban-Americans

By Wayne Parry, Associated Press Writer, December 8, 2005.

UNION CITY, N.J. - The rise of Rep. Robert Menendez (news, bio, voting record) mirrors the progress of the entire Hispanic community in the United States, residents of the congressman's hometown say.

The 51-year-old son of Cuban immigrants, chosen by Gov.-elect Jon Corzine to fill the final year of Corzine's Senate term, would be the first minority member to represent New Jersey in the Senate, and would be the body's third sitting Hispanic senator.

Corzine will announce the selection as early as Thursday, Democratic congressional aides told The Associated Press. They spoke on condition of anonymity Wednesday because the official announcement had not yet been made.

"Latinos are getting out there and meaning something, and that means a lot," said Angel Perez, who owns a medical supply store on Bergenline Avenue, the heart of Union City's Cuban-American community, which also counts Dominicans, Colombians, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans and other Hispanics among its residents.

Perez, who said he has known the congressman since childhood, said he and many other Union City voters cast ballots for Corzine specifically because they hoped he would choose Menendez as his successor.

Born in New York City, Menendez grew up in Union City, serving on the Board of Education in 1974-78 and as mayor in 1986-92. He was in the state Assembly in 1987-91 and the state Senate in 1991-92, when he was elected to Congress.

Though he currently lives in nearby Hoboken, he's well known along Bergenline Avenue, where store signs are as likely to be in Spanish as English, bakeries boast of their Mexican and Guatemalan bread, and shops vie to offer prepaid phone cards with cheap rates to Central and South America.

Photo lab worker Pablo Madrigal said that while Menendez's ancestry is a point of local pride, it will only go so far in Washington.

"If he's going to do a good job, it doesn't matter if he's Hispanic or not," he said.

American Anti-War Activists March in Cuba

By Anita Snow, Associated Press Writer, Dec 7, 2005.

HAVANA - American anti-war activists marched Wednesday from the eastern Cuban city of Santiago toward the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay to protest treatment of terror suspects there.

The 25 members of the Witness Against Torture group had hoped to begin their daylong march a day earlier, but spent Tuesday negotiating with Cuban communist officials about how close they could get to the American military installation, the protesters said by telephone.

Cuba and the United States have had no diplomatic relations for more than four decades, and the American base is surrounded by a miles-wide Cuban military zone peppered with mines.

It seemed unlikely that the marchers would be allowed to cross the military zone to reach the U.S. base's gate and demand that American sentries let them visit the prisoners, as they initially had planned.

"We're really saddened and horrified by what's going on in Guantanamo and the other prisons" where the U.S. military holds terror suspects, said marcher Susan Crane of Baltimore. "Our hope is to get as close as we can (to the base)."

"We want the prisoners to know we care about them," she added.

Most of the marchers arrived Monday in Santiago, about 50 miles southwest of Guantanamo, from the Dominican Republic. Among them was Frida Berrigan, daughter of the late Phil Berrigan, a former Roman Catholic priest whose fight against the Vietnam War and nuclear weapons helped ignite a generation of anti-war dissent.

The United States holds about 500 terror suspects at the remote base in Guantanamo. The U.S. government says they are enemy combatants, not prisoners of war, and are not entitled to the same rights afforded under the Geneva Conventions.

 

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